Fanning the radical anti-abortion flames in Colorado

Colorado has played a prominent role in the abortion debate since 1967, when the state was the first in the nation to legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life.

While ugly confrontation between reproductive-rights advocates and abortion opponents is inevitable, an internecine fight has been brewing between warring camps of absolutists that oppose abortion under any circumstances versus those who advocate for incremental change or are willing to make exceptions in certain cases.

Operation Rescue's so-called "Truth Truck" is a favorite among the more radical anti-abortion protesters. (Note: A graphic image on the truck has been edited.) (ewww/Flickr)

To be clear, good people of good conscience can and do oppose abortion and work to end the circumstances for it lawfully, respectfully and ethically.

But there’s also another faction — a minority to be sure — that will use any means necessary including encouraging and excusing violence. Proposed Amendment 48, under the aegis of Colorado for Equal Rights, serves as a catalyst to reignite those long-simmering tensions with absolutist supporters of the ballot measure — Colorado Right to Life, Operation Rescue/Operation Save America, Denver Bible Church and American Right to Life — fanning the flames against those they deem too weak to work toward truly outlawing abortion.

Yesterday, the Colorado Independent explored the ties between Dr. James Patrick Johnston, a key member of the Amendment 48 campaign team, and some of the most virulent paramilitary antiabortion groups in the nation — the Army of God, Christian Gallery and Minutemen United. Johnston has written tracts for these groups that defend the murder of reproductive health clinic staff under ultraconservative interpretations of Biblical law.

In the definitive book, Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, the authors detail the rise of Randall Terry of Operation Rescue, Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League and the Army of God’s Rev. Michael Bray — cohorts of Johnston’s whom he has praised on his many anti-abortion Web sites and in whose protests he has participated. Bray wrote the how-to manual on clinic bombings and “defensible force” tactics and holds some of the most extreme views in the antiabortion movement.

Besides links to violent national movement leaders, Johnston also has a history dating back to at least 2005 with the Who’s Who of Colorado abortion absolutists through confrontations and protests, speaking engagements, radio interviews, cross-posted articles on one another’s Web sites and now the ballot measure.

Those long-standing relationships were solidified in May 2007, when a coalition of conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic groups — the local absolutists along with Flip Benham’s Operation Rescue/Operation Save America, Human Life International and American Life League — paid for a series of controversial ads attacking James Dobson for not being anti-abortion enough ran in The Washington [D.C.] Times and Colorado Springs Gazette.

Johnston was one of the personal signatories.

A month after the ads appeared, Colorado Right to Life was booted from the National Right to Life organization, punishment for its sponsorship over an issue that split local and national anti-abortion factions. (Though all must be forgiven. Dobson recently endorsed the ballot measure despite the absolutists’ heavy involvement in the campaign — the very same crew who ran the critical newspaper ads last year).

Within months, a new group, American Right to Life, was established. Led by former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve Curtis and ex-Colorado Right to Life President Brian Rohrbough with the support of dozens of absolutist groups, the activists are now challenging National Right to Life’s position as the country’s leading anti-abortion organization. Johnston has been mentioned on several anti-abortion blogs as a founder of the group, as is Bob Enyart of the Denver Bible Church. The ARTL Web site does not list its members or board.

Some Colorado activists on the “personhood” campaign maintain their own direct relationships with national extremists without the need for a middleman like Johnston.

Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League advised supporters of an ongoing protest against Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood that attracted Enyart and other Amendment 48 campaign staff who harassed construction company executives building the clinic’s new Denver administrative headquarters.

Emboldened by support from radical national anti-abortion groups, like Pro-Life Action and Operation Rescue West (the group that rose from the ashes of Terry’s bankrupted group), the local absolutists consolidated their power. They began to ingratiate themselves in the Colorado for Equal Rights campaign, then run solely by Kristi Burton of Peyton, east of Colorado Springs, her family and a few close friends on a shoestring budget. Enyart has spoken frequently about the measure on his radio show and organized petition drives. American Right to Life has issued affirmative public statements, as has Colorado Right to Life on behalf of the cause.

The absolutists also worked to overcome early stumbles in the campaign that alienated the Catholic Diocese and other prominent religious leaders who refuse to sign on to the measure. Mark Meuser, an early spokesman for Colorado for Equal Rights, made several statements to the press that the primary aim of Amendment 48 is to ban abortion and curb oral contraceptive access.

When opponents used those comments as the basis for legal arguments to the Colorado Supreme Court that the measure’s language violated the state’s single-issue rule, such direct language was immediately eliminated from the Web site and further public statements.

Burton herself even demurs on the subject, claiming that the measure is simply to add a legal personhood definition to the Colorado Constitution. Mentioning an abortion ban is now verboten.

Except for their longtime Ohio anti-abortion comrade-in-arms, Johnston — who, to his credit, is much more open about the true aim of Colorado’s proposed law and his involvement in the cause. Says Johnston:

So even if this amendment passes — you need just leadership to enforce it, a judiciary that won’t overrule it — and if the judiciary does overrule it then you need leadership with the courage to defy that tyrannical law and enforce this good law in adherence to divine mandate to protect the innocent. So, this is only a beginning.

Other segments in this continuing series exploring Amendment 48:

Colorado personhood law backer linked to militant anti-abortion groups. Part 1: Shedding light on Amendment 48′s true intent

Origins of Personhood: Using ‘States Rights’ to Restrict Abortion

Origins of Personhood: The moral precedent of conception, religion and the law

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Wendy Norris

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